“An honour! Were not I thine only nurse, I would say thou hadst suck’d wisdom from thy teat.” – William Shakespeare
Some mothers who elect to breastfeed their babies whilst on maternity leave, often stop once they return to work or opt to resign, in order to continue breastfeeding. Whilst, others might be unsure of how to make arrangements with their employers to continue breastfeeding and/or expressing milk after maternity leave.
Despite that only a small percentage of the workforce account for breastfeeding women at any given time, does not make it any less significant. Protection and advancement of breastfeeding women is important and can benefit everyone.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding up to the age of two – why is this?
One would think that breastfeeding is merely providing milk to your baby to help them grow, but it is much more than that. Breastfeeding is one of the most crucial and effective ways to ensure your baby’s long-term health, as it contains antibodies, which help protect babies against many common childhood illnesses.
The unique properties of breastmilk benefit children as they get older and throughout the course of their lives, long after breastfeeding has stopped. Breastmilk supports better cognitive function, promotes brain development and lowers the risk of non-communicable diseases such as childhood obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
Benefits to the Employer
Employers who contribute a portion to the cost of healthcare (medical aid) for employees and their families may find that these costs are often lower when babies are breastfed, as breastfed children are generally healthier.
Two American studies, study 1 and study 2, found that for every 1,000 babies not breastfed, an additional 2,033 doctors’ visits, 212 days in hospital, and 609 prescriptions existed for those children. Moreover, one-day absences to care for sick children occur more than twice as often for mothers of formula-fed infants.
Therefore, it is by that reasoning that healthy children reduce the possibility of parents missing work, which directly influences productivity.
Section 25(3) of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997 (BCEA) stipulates “No employee may work for six weeks after the birth of his child, unless a medical practitioner or midwife certifies that she is fit to do so.” However, women may consider returning to work earlier, if an employer supports breastfeeding in the workplace, thus possibly reducing training and replacement costs for interim employees.
A study of multiple companies with breastfeeding support programmes found an average retention rate of 94%. Therefore, such support incentives, may increase employee morale and loyalty to the employer.
What does the Law say?
Working women need protection against discrimination and harassment in the workplace, because they often face difficulties when breastfeeding or expressing milk at work.
The Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees during Pregnancy and after the Birth of a Child (the Code), in accordance with section 87(1)(b) of the BCEA, recommends that breastfeeding employees should be allowed two breaks of thirty minutes twice per day for breastfeeding or expressing milk for the first six months of the child’s life.
In addition to the above recommendation, the ILO Recommendation 191 provides “Where practical, provision should be made for the establishment of facilities for breastfeeding under adequate hygienic conditions at or near the workplace – a clean space with room to sit down, privacy, access to clean water and a secure storage place for expressed milk is needed.”
Breastfeeding employees are encouraged to approach their employers to make the necessary arrangements in terms of where and how, as described above.
Recourse against the Employer
If a breastfeeding employee attempted to make the necessary arrangements with her employer to continue breastfeeding, or expressing milk, to no avail, the employee should lodge a formal grievance, in accordance with the employer’s grievance procedure.
In addition, you have the right, depending on the circumstances and the facts, to declare an unfair discrimination dispute through MISA to the CCMA for conciliation should the grievance remain unresolved.
Breastfeeding employees should be supported and in fact, encouraged, to continue breastfeeding after maternity leave. Guidance in this regard is provided to employers in accordance with the Code of Good Practice.
If in doubt, remember that MISA is just a phone call away!
Kindly utilise the following e-mail addresses and links for assistance:
Legal/Labour-related enquiries Legal@ms.org.za
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